It will be just a two-rider Yamaha strike force in the Grand National Cross-country Championships in the United States, but with a Kiwi to lead the charge.
Pahiatua’s Paul Whibley will team with American rider Jordan Ashburn to form the two-man AmPro/FMF/Yamaha Factory Off-Road Team for 2012, the New Zealander hoping to reclaim the No.1 plate he held at the end of the 2009 season.
Whibley finished runner-up last season, a remarkable performance considering he was down in a lowly eighth spot overall after the opening round of the 13-round series back in March.
A clash with a tree left the Yamaha ace with a damaged radiator at that fateful event in March but, eight months and 12 races later, he was back in a position to win the title.
It didn’t quite work out that way for the 33-year-old former Manawatu forestry worker – affectionately known as “The Axeman” by his motorcycling rivals – but to salvage second overall in the USA was still a remarkable achievement.
Though tight financial considerations have forced many race teams to rethink their budgets, the decision to keep Whibley was probably not a difficult one.
“We had to make some tough decisions heading into the new season,” said AmPro Yamaha owner and former national enduro champion Randy Hawkins.
“The choice to have only two Pro 450cc riders just seemed to be the right one. Paul and Jordan work excellent together I and honestly believe that they will push each other to be the best.”
Whibley was pleased to be a part of the new line-up.
“Jordan and I work really well together and that will help a bunch when it comes to training and riding. I think having a smaller team will also help us stay focused on what’s important … winning races.”
Ashburn, the runner-up in the 2011 XC2 GNCC class, will step up to the 450cc class for 2012.
“I’m training hard now with sprint work, running, cycling and swimming and, of course, riding the new Yamaha YZ450F,” said Whibley.
“The team is based in South Carolina and the weather’s mostly nice there. We have a good base where team boss Randy Hawkins owns land and we ride there a lot. It’s a good base.”
Whibley is a four-time consecutive winner of the parallel Off-Road Motorcycle and ATV (OMA) series in the US and he begins that title defence at the end of February. But it’s the GNCC title he craves most and that campaign kicks off in Florida in the first week of March.
In the meantime, Whibley is at home for a break over the Christmas period and the Woodville Motocross at the end of this month will be his final ride in New Zealand before he embarks on his 2012 campaign in the US.
Whibley is supported by Monster Energy, Sargent Yamaha in Masterton, MotoSR suspension, BikesportNZ.com, Graphic MX Creation and Yamaha New Zealand.
2012 GNCC calendar
Rd. 1, March 10-13 – Westgate River Ranch, River Ranch, FL
Rd. 2, March 17-18 – The General, Aonia Pass, GA
Rd. 3, Mar 31-Apr 1 – Steele Creek, Morganton, NC
Rd. 4, April 14-15 – Big Buck, Union, SC
Rd. 5, April 28-29 – The Mammoth, Park City, KY
Rd. 6, May 12-13 – Indy 100, Springville, IN
Rd. 7, May 26-27 – Buckwheat, Masontown, WV
Rd. 8, June 23-24 – Snowshoe, Snowshoe, WV
Rd. 9, July 7-8 – John Penton Millfield, OH
Rd. 10, Sep 15-16 – Unadilla New Berlin, NY
Rd. 11, Oct 6-7 – Powerline Park, St. Clairsville, OH
Rd. 12, Oct 20-21 – Ironman, Crawfordsville, IN
Rd. 13, Nov 3-4 – Loretta Lynn’s, Hurricane Mills, TN
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com